Dance and dine: good times in Old Bearden

Tracy Haun OwensOur Town Stories, West Knoxville

“If a girl loves a man, that’s her business. If a man loves a girl, that’s his business. If they love each other, that’s their business. If they get married, that’s nobody’s business. But if they want to dine or dance, that’s my business, and I am located at Wayside Inn.”

In October 1928, Wayside Inn proprietor J.D. Green entered the local entertainment fray with this intriguing ad for his place, whose address was listed only as “Kingston Pike. Near Bearden.”

The actual address was in the 4000 block of Kingston Pike, sometimes then identified as Dixie Highway. Later, when roads in Bearden changed, the address of the original Wayside Inn became 5500 Kingston Pike. That’s the spot where neighborhood favorite Naples Italian Restaurant closed its doors last month.

J.D. Green ran a tight ship at the Wayside Inn. He had an eye for salesmanship. Back then the local newspaper reported every kerfuffle, from the running of a stop sign to a fall at a local beer joint. If the press ever hinted that anything had happened at the Wayside, Green was in the paper the next day with a clarification, aka denial. He had had six years of “no trouble,” he told the newspaper in 1934.

Young people came out to dance to the old Victrola, and couples came out to dine. Some of them may have been lured by Green’s ad in the “purely personal” section of the classifieds: “Hungry, Honey?” touting the chicken and steak dinners at the inn.

In the 1930s, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knoxville Fire Department held its chaperoned weekly dances at the inn, grooving to such bands as the Maryville Melody Men and Albert Gardner’s Orchestra. The auxiliary to the Police Department also held its dances and meetings there.

The inn was by all accounts a bastion of respectability when a teetotaling group of reformers began targeting all of Knoxville’s “roadhouses” in the late 1930s. In 1939, Chief of Police Noel Pace led a “vice clean-up” that hit every alcohol-serving establishment in the county.

“We started at Dixie Lee Junction, and we visited them on both sides of the road all the way back down Kingston Pike to Knoxville,” Pace said. His men smashed up bottles and slot machines, and they filled a specially designated vehicle with bottles of “evidence.”

It was the start of a long battle for the right to serve beer. Laws changed frequently. When R.T. Green, by then the proprietor of the inn, brought suit against the local Beer Committee, a judge ruled that the committee had a “wide latitude” to make and enforce laws.

Alberti’s Italian Inn at 5500 Kingston Pike opened in 1961 and was the predecessor to the now-closed Naples. Alberti’s introduced Knoxville to one of its favorite cuisines. (From the author’s personal collection)

The Wayside Inn, still owned by the Greens, was being operated by James Anderson when it caught fire on June 21, 1947. The frame building was a total loss, although other residential and rental structures on the property survived. No one was hurt, but it was said flames could be seen all the way from Topside Road.

R.T. and Ada Green opened a new Wayside Inn at 4406 Kingston Pike, near where Bennett Galleries is today, in spring 1948. They operated it until the new inn was built on their property at 5500. That incarnation of the Wayside Inn thrived through the 1950s. In 1961, Joseph Alberti at the Wayside Inn (named as Joseph Arthur Albert) applied for a beer permit in his name.

In April 1961, Alberti opened the immediately popular Alberti’s Italian Inn, where he served lasagna, spaghetti and salad, and where he introduced the Bearden crowd to espresso, clams on the half-shell and many good memories. That restaurant morphed into Naples in the 1970s. Bob and Becky Luper have been owner-operators of Naples for the past three decades.

R.T. and Ada Green passed away in the early 1970s. Their daughter, Nellie Vann, owned the property until 2002, when it was transferred into a related trust. It was purchased in 2015 by the Luper family, who kept the restaurant a beloved center of Bearden life until they retired. A deal to keep the restaurant operating with other buyers fell through, and the Lupers have sold the property to Bearden development whiz Tony Cappiello.

Grazie per i ricordi – thanks for the memories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *